English rugby league star Kallum Watkins was released by the National Rugby League Gold Coast Titans team to return to England because of “serious family health problems”, after his father was contracted corona virus.
The 29-year-old, who has won 25 English caps and appeared in the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, left his childhood club Leeds Rhino in 2019 to move to Australia and test himself on the biggest stage, although a serious knee injury last season limited his playing time to just a few Down Under appearances.
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With NRL The season stopped due to the coronavirus crisis, Gold Coast has not seen the best of the first Super League center, but a statement on Saturday confirmed his departure shortly after learning that his father had been sick at home.
It is understood that Watkins has returned to England with his wife and children to follow soon, and his manager Chris Orr confirmed that the decision was taken because “the family takes precedence”.
A statement issued by the Australian Titans club reads: “The Gold Coast Titans have given a request from the English Language Test Center Kallum Watkins for immediate release of his NRL contract, so that he can return to England for personal reasons.
“After a period of recovery from knee reconstruction and adjustment to NRL last year, a great pre-season made the 29-year-old give his best for the Titans in 2020.
“However, some serious family health problems have forced Watkins and his family to immediately move the family back to England, taking his time on the Gold Coast – and his long-stated desire to prove himself at NRL – ended prematurely. “
Watkins won three Super League the title at Leeds while making more than 250 appearances since joining their academy in 2007, which strengthened his position as one of the leading centers in the division and attracted the interest of the Australian team, the Gold Coast, who signed him in the middle of the 2019 campaign.
The ex-Rhino captain was unable to change the fate of the Titans when they were at the bottom of the NRL table last season, having arrived with injury after undergoing knee reconstruction in his anterior cruciate ligament – an injury that restricted his Leeds career prematurely.
But even in limited time with the club, head coach Justin Holbrook praised the impact Watkins made in the dressing room, adding that he left with the best wishes of all those involved in the Titans.
“Kallum has only been here for a short time, but he is a man who is very popular in group play,” said Holbrook. “Every day he shows the qualities that the club wants from him – namely his leadership and professionalism.
“I’m mostly just disappointed in Kallum – first that he has to endure this terrible situation with health problems with family members, and secondly he has to leave his dream to prove himself at NRL.
“He worked very hard out of season, and that hard work was evident in the form we saw from him at the start of the season – in trials against the Broncos, and then in our two premiership matches against Canberra and Parramatta.
“For him to go now, right when he will return to the best, very devastating for him, and for us as his friends.
“But family always comes first, and we will never get in the way of Kallum’s way of doing the best for his family in very difficult times.
“He left the Titans with our best thanks and hope, for him and his family.”
Watkins’ wife, Sophie, posted a message on her Instagram page to thank the Titans for their understanding and to confirm that she would fly back to England with three pairs of children next week, adding “thanks for memories (Australia). To the next chapter after the whirlwind year. “
The availability of Watkins will alert clubs to the next step, but his immediate concern is his family at the time of the national crisis.